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Mon 10 Oct 2011 06:29 PM

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Saudi Telecom eyes new licences in MENA region

Telecom company says it is confident of securing funding for any acquisition deals

Saudi Telecom eyes new licences in MENA region
Arab mobile phone, telcos, telecommunications generic

Saudi Telecom Co (STC) is targeting acquisitions and licences in the Middle East and North Africa and is confident of securing funding for any deals, the head of its international operations said on Monday.

STC, which owns 35 percent of Turkish group Oger Telecom, licences in Bahrain and Kuwait and a controlling stake in Indonesian firm Axis, wants to expand.

"Our future investments will continue to focus on the Middle East and North Africa predominantly and then Asia ... we thought there were not any opportunities (in the Middle East) a year ago, but looking at the region today the picture is changing," Ghassan Hasbani told Reuters in an interview.

"There are greenfield opportunities that will emerge or existing operations that are up for sale or potentially up for sale. There's a lot of hidden potential that will emerge in the next 18 to 24 months."

STC and Qatar Telecommunications (Qtel) were the two final bidders for Syria's third mobile licence, but the auction remains on hold as the government mounts a deadly crackdown against protesters demanding an end to President Bashar al-Assad's rule.

"We are waiting for new signals on that market (Syria) on where the process is going. Nothing has changed," said Hasbani.

Another target could be Iraq, with Saudi Arabia's northern neighbour aiming to auction a fourth mobile licence by year-end.

"When that process is underway we would look at it seriously," said Hasbani.

STC will be able to tap debt markets for acquisitions.

"Funding was more limited in 2008, but today for companies like STC I don't they think will have problems finding funding at good rates," said Hasbani.

"We only look to borrow money when there's an imminent opportunity. According to that opportunity we will look at our debt-equity mix."

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